Thomas S. Kidd is a distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. He is the author of The Great Awakening and George Whitefield, both from Yale University Press. American Colonial History is his foray into the history surrounding colonized America, taking particular interest in the mixing of Natives, Africans, and Europeans in America. American Colonial History is a splendid introductory text.
Professors, young historians, and persons of any sort interested in historical or religious studies should put this book on their reading list. This study of American colonial history is organized over two vital themes: conflict and religion. American Colonial History traces the context, conflict, and charisms of natives, slaves, and anglo-settlers leading up to the Treaty of Paris (1763), which concluded the Seven Year’s War. Kidd marks the end of colonial history at this treaty, pointing out that territorial lines previously disputed are clearly delineated, the settling of America has taken shape.
The main thesis question that Kidd asks is “How, in all the varied experiences of Indians, Africans, and Europeans, was the stage set for a sufficient union of American colonists to try to liberate themselves from British rule?” (xi). He argues that when people come together, clashing inevitably occurs. And, within the colonial context, religion plays a pivotal role in this conflict. What people believed and how they expressed their faith governed much of the politic, marketplace, culture, and warfare of their time. Understanding historical context within this setting requires a diligent eye to spiritual beliefs. Kidd asserts: “Many in America interpreted their interactions with their rivals, including violence and enslavement, through the lens of religion and spiritual beliefs” (xi).
Kidd’s introduction begins with a riveting historical account of the Cohokia settlement, a settlement that rivaled London and Rome at the same period of time. This Native American settlement was eventually abandoned before Columbus set foot on American soil, but it provides context for the rich history of American civilization pre-dating American colonization. Cohokia, itself, ends up being the setting of conflict between the French and the Cohokia Indians of that area. This account sets the tone for what will come in Kidd’s American Colonial History.
An enterprise such as an introductory text to historical studies, requires exposure to many other fine works focused on specialty studies. One that focuses on themes of religion and conflict makes this task altogether more challenging. Thankfully, Kidd’s text relies heavily upon the fact that social history in America has garnered much attention in the last few decades. Kidd credits the diligent research of his colleagues for doing the spade work in each of their respective fields of specialty. Being attentive to the carefully crafted endnotes will profit students wishing to go deeper and further into these studies. The serious student will likely add many of the works that Kidd consults to his or her library.
If you’re looking for a summer read in historical and religious studies and would like to bolster or round out your perspective on the settling of America and the birth of the United States, you would do well to read this text. It will not disappoint.